Springingtiger's Blog

Death and the New Year.


Two days into Twenty Seventeen and we’ve already had the terrorist shooting in Istanbul and another mass shooting at a new year’s party. We are being told that a terrorist attack on British soil is inevitable. Am I worried? Surprisingly not in the slightest.

When I say I am not worried I mean I’m not worried about a terrorist attack. Statistically we are all in a lot more danger from dying as a result of an air crash or road accident than at the hands of a terrorist. I am far more concerned that our politicians are going to use the supposed threat of a terrorist attack to further curtail our liberties and to spy upon our every day activities. I am concerned that our politicians’ eagerness to reject the European Convention on Human Rights will undermine the Good Friday Agreement and expose us to the possibility of renewed paramilitary violence in the North of Ireland and to bombings on the mainland. I am worried that withdrawing from the ECHR will provide the Westminster government with an opportunity to destroy the limited devolution settlement Scotland now enjoys and anxious that it will lead to a further diminution of employment rights. The threat of Islamic terrorism against targets in the UK is very low on the list of things that concern me. I see the rise of the Right and of post Brexit xenophobia as far more dangerous to the UK than Islamic extremism.

I have to admit that I can see no logical reason for fearing death. Death is inevitable and no amount of fear will prevent it, only an idiot fears it. On the other hand it is equally stupid to unnecessarily seek death, except possibly in the face of debilitating illness. The upset of bereavement makes a degree of sense, it is natural to be upset when we lose someone we love. However death is inevitable and we will inevitably lose people we love, everyone we know will eventually give up this physical body and move on to something else. There is little point in speculating what comes next because we can’t know until we get there, assuming there is anywhere to get to. If all that awaits us is oblivion then there is certainly no logical cause for fear.

Last year was marked by the deaths of many much loved celebrities as well as many less widely known benefactors of humanity in various fields, some of whom may have contributed more to the world in practical than even David Bowie. There is a meme on social media at the moment showing Bruce Forsyth saying “I made it, you bastards!” referring to the perception that Twenty Sixteen had been massacring entertainers; and, of course, there is the ever popular meme, “Breaking News: Keith Richard found alive!” The fact is that every year actors, musicians, academics, writers, politicians, and many other people well known in various fields will die and this year will be no exception. While our beloved celebrities are dying there will be many ordinary people dying from illness, war, the effects of the UK Government’s austerity measures, unjust sanctioning of the sick and disabled, road accidents, natural disasters and many other causes and most of us won’t even notice. No one life is worth more than any other, nor any less. Every life should be celebrated and every death marked with respect.

Many of us will die this year. Perhaps some of us by violence, hopefully not. The inevitability of our deaths is not cause for anxiety, nor upset. That we must die is an excellent reason for enjoying our lives to the utmost while we have them. We are all as capable of joy as we are of sadness, so why not choose to have fun? Our joy is not caused by our circumstances, but by how we relate to them. I don’t have any plans to die this year, but I’m not going to worry about the possibility which will be there every year until it isn’t (or I am not). My plan for this year is to live every second to the fullest, anything else is a waste of a precious gift. As for everyone else’s lives, I intend to celebrate them whether they are alive or not. Now I shall retire for the night and probably celebrate Leonard Cohen or Elvis perhaps. So many lives then and now and each (even the worst) carries a gift that deserves to be celebrated.


Law Before Order


I enjoy the occasional television drama. One favourite is ‘Person Of Interest’. However watching it today I found myself reflecting on how we are being fed a constant stream of dramas designed to undermine the moral values of society. In many of these stories the heroes are vigilantes like Arrow or the ‘man in the suit’ taking the law into their own hands because of failures in the justice system or deliberate perversions of justice.

Worse than the vigilante is the almost casual acceptance that law enforcers will bend the rules to ‘maintain order’, ‘keep America safe’, ‘wage war on terrorism’. We are fed a constant stream of tales where justice is only served because intrepid law officers spied on personal communications, provoked dissidents into terrorist actions for which they could actually be arrested. We are constantly told by our heroes on television and film that we need the eye in the sky, the CCTV, the phone tap, the DNA library, the electronic ID card. And when our politicians try to impose these things upon us we are told, “If you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear!” If that were true then why are ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesting? Why are journalists being locked up without trial in Turkey?

We cannot be complacent it is in the West that our favourite shows are set. It is we who are being told day in and day out that the price of our safety is the loss of our freedom. That sometimes an innocent man may be shot in the Underground and that’s unfortunate, but worth it if we are to be safe. How do we address these mistakes? More surveillance, more surveillance and less oversight of those who are watching us. We are being told that public order is more important than natural justice. That democracy is too important to be entrusted to the voters.

You may not believe me but just look at the efforts of the establishment to deny democratic freedoms. A Labour Party establishment that wants to deny its members the right to choose their leader, their representatives even the issues on which they will campaign; the other parties are no better. A press that denies coverage or a voice to all whose opinions and beliefs run counter to those who own the levers of power. Effectively the establishment compels direct action by those who wish their voices to be heard and then quashes them in the name of public order. When the limits on freedom are increasingly restricted it is inevitable that decent people will have to fall foul of the law sometimes. Sometimes people have to choose to break the law to protest injustice, there is an ethical argument for doing so.

What is not acceptable, but what our television dramas are telling us is not only acceptable, but necessary is for those charged with upholding the law to bend and break the rules to preserve order. When order is preserved at the expense of the law, when already draconian laws are bent by the establishment we do not have rule of law, we have dictatorship. Dictatorship, not by one person, but a class, but dictatorship none the less.

Racism, Resentment and Terror


I was having a discussion about racism, as one does. Later I was reflecting on racism and my experience of it and relating it to the discussions going on now over the Chilcot Report. A number of apologists for Tony Blair and New Labour refuse to accept that the Iraqi insurgency and the rise of Daesh can in any way be blamed on the war that was launched against Iraq by Tony Blair and George W Bush with the approval of New Labour MPs like Hilary Benn and Angela Eagle. The counter argument is that the invasion of Iraq brought about Daesh as a reaction to invasion.

To describe racism as ‘Prejudice plus power’ is a gross over simplification. However there is a power dynamic in racism that fosters resentment and retaliation. When a more powerful race imposes its will on a less powerful by force it fosters resentment. Racism is not necessarily about skin colour although that is often a factor but occurs when any race considers another as inferior and abuses, exploits, and belittles it accordingly. Obvious examples are the English imposition of a system derived from Norman feudalism on the clan structures of Ireland and later Scotland and the assault on their language and cultures. The treating of black Africans as domestic animals rather than human beings is an even more obvious example. That these attitudes persist may be seen in the current protests in the United States, closer to home even the Prime Minister accepts that black people are unfairly treated by the justice system. The new Foreign Secretary published a poem about the Scots which includes lines like,

Battening off us with false bonhomie;

Polluting our stock, undermining our economy.”

Effectively saying that Scots are parasites and genetically inferior. The poem ends with an obvious reference to Hitler’s final solution,

I would go further. The nation

Deserves not merely isolation

But comprehensive extermination.

We must not flinch from a solution.”

Of course when directed at the Scots no one in England bothers about its racism and they ignore the obvious link between racism and anti Semitism because it’s Boris and he’s a buffoon, what a wag, eh? That the underlying foundation of the Conservative General Election campaign was basically the oft repeated claim that ‘If you vote Labour England will be run by Scots because Labour will be in thrall to the SNP.’ demonstrates that the Tories were able to rely on an underlying current of racism to win votes. It was a strategy that rebounded on David Cameron as his opponents in the EU Referendum used promises of cutting immigration to manipulate that racist vote and take the UK out of the EU. But what has any of this got to do with Chilcot?

When I was a child, wherever someone was born they were assumed to be of the same race as their father. My father was Irish, something of which I am proud. However it did make me the target of abuse at school. There is a myth that Irish people have violent tempers so my contemporaries in my English Prep school used to torment me and physically abuse me until I lost my temper at which point they colluded to ensure that I was the one to be blamed for the ensuing melee and any breakages. My property was vandalised and stolen. Were it not for the deliberate goading to see my ‘Irish temper’ I might have just passed it off as bullying, but I am satisfied it was racism. I was not alone, one Asian boy was invariably addressed as ‘Cowshit’ rather than by his own (not entirely dissimilar name) and a Jewish boy was forced to eat pork sausages.

If I could be left with an abiding dislike and mistrust of the English, how much more reason do the Iraqis have to resent the invasion of their country and the killing of their people, many of them civilians. If the western powers insist on bombing other countries they will provoke resentment which can be turned into a will to revenge by those it suits to do so. However well meaning and principled a military action or drone strike may be, it only takes the death of an innocent to breed resentment. However much we may protest that we act in the interests of world peace, when we invade another country we are effectively inviting them to defend themselves. When Britain was threatened by the Nazis, civilians took up arms in the Home Guard to defend their country. When France was invaded by the Nazis hundreds of civilians took up arms to resist them. We should not be surprised when Iraqis, or Afghanis do the same. Worse, because it was an invasion by western forces, whatever the invasion’s objective it made it possible for the unscrupulous to portray it as an attack on Islam. When conflict moves from geography to ideology it ceases to have geographical boundaries. When a conflict spills over from its assigned combatants and makes of civilians ‘collateral damage’ every target becomes a legitimate one and those without sufficient ordinance to pursue a campaign on the battlefield look for easier, softer targets.

Whatever those who voted for war in Iraq may claim. Whether they were misled or no. It is too late for excuses. A simple review of the past two millenia should have told them that violence begets violence, they should have challenged the lies they were peddled, they should have pursued alternative means until they were exhausted. When they took the ‘War on Terror’ to the enemy they brought that terror into our homes and wheter they like it or not, they are to blame.

Put Away Your Sword.


I was reading in Matthew’s Gospel about the arrest of Jesus. When one of his followers sought to defend him with a sword he told the man to put the sword away and famously added, “All who take the sword will die by the sword.” (He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword) It reminded me of an earlier verse in Matthew 5 when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement” (Mt. 5:21). An injunction against murder as Jewish law allowed for killing in war and as a punishment for certain crimes. However Jesus went on to say, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Which I believe rather tightens up the injunction.

In the early church many soldiers were martyred because they believed killing, even in war, to be contrary to the teachings of Jesus. I am not going to argue about just wars, I cannot blame people for defending themselves when attacked, I will not condemn self-defence. However when someone claims self defence dishonestly, whether it be a justification for a war or an individual killing, it is murder. If a politician honestly believes his country is about to be attacked then perhaps he is right to send the army to its defence. But to send armies thousands of miles into another country which is in no position to invade is not defence, it is murder. For a leader to misrepresent facts or to lie, to achieve the goal of attacking another country is murder. Anyone who dishonestly attacks another country is not only responsible for the attack, but also for any retaliation by the people of that country, whether by war or terrorism. When your country is invaded, if you accept the concept of a just war, then any action you take to persuade the aggressor to withdraw is justified wherever you take the action. However any doctrine of just war precludes the killing of civilians. Which would make the use of any weapon designed for the slaughter of civilians, murder.

We all have a degree of responsibility for war and for killing. The man who smelts the steel that makes the gun might as well be making it for girders, little blame attaches to him. The man who takes the steel and makes the gun must bear some blame, but does he know who will use the weapons? The man who sells the weapons knows to whom he sells, it’s fair to say he is to some extent guilty. But the man who orders the weapons to be used bears the most guilt and, to a lesser extent (in a democracy) those who voted for him. What about the soldier who uses a gun? His responsibility and his choice is the most personal. To a very great extent I accept that much of a soldier’s guilt is removed by his following orders. Should he deliberately kill a civilian then he is guilty, but the emphasis lies on ‘deliberately’. In my experience very few soldiers want to kill civilians, but there will always be some who in anger or ignorance strike when they should not. Even then much of the blame lies with those who put them in that position. I will not lay blame on a man under pressure who accidentally kills, I will not excuse the ones who put him there.

Ultimately the greatest blame lies with those who choose to order the slaughter of innocent civilians, the most obvious examples are terrorist bombs in civilian areas or the carpet bombing of cities like London and Dresden in World War Two. Any politician who votes to deploy weapons that cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants is effectively voting for murder. Any politician who declares themselves willing to use weapons of mass destruction is effectively declaring a will to commit premeditated murder. However any guilt these murderers or potential murders have is shared with those who put them in the position to make these immoral decisions. Some who vote for them will sincerely believe they are justified in doing so, however they should not take offence when others equally sincerely call them murderers. Before you next cast a vote, perhaps you might wonder whether that vote may ultimately lead to acts that, on reflection, you would abhor. Ask questions, before you decide, afterwards it will be too late.

Terrorism, the Dangerous Word
September 26, 2013, 18:54
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Comrade Lenin said that, “the purpose of terrorism is to terrorise” in which case, one might argue,  the gunmen who committed the mall atrocity in Nairobi are not terrorists because their stated purpose is the withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia. An exercise not in  terrorism,  but futility. The only thing that this sort of attack achieves is news coverage,  there is not a government prepared now, to be manipulated by violence. I doubt whether the perpetrators of violence honestly expect to persuade anyone of the rightness of their cause, the real goal is publicity, although I suspect that some,  so called,  terrorists simply get a kick from hurting others.

There is not, as yet, an agreed definition of terrorism in law or otherwise.  It is often forgotten that we take the term terrorism from post revolutionary France, terrorism was action by the state to control the people. Governments tend to use the term of those who oppose them. The term terrorist is both derogatory and highly emotive; frequently a so called terrorist,  like those who resisted the Nazis in Europe, or the English in Ireland,  describes himself as a freedom fighter. The term terrorist exists really only in propaganda to smear one’s opposition.  Because it lacks an agreed definition,  and because it is so insulting,  it is best avoided. The Conservative MP,  Rob Wilson,  wants the BBC to use the term, regardless of the facts, and expose journalists to the retaliation of those so described. It is alleged by many that allied drone attacks on Pakistani civilians is terrorism, I am inclined to agree,  however I think it is more accurate, and less emotive, to describe them as “drone attacks”, in the same way I think “Islamist militant” is preferable to the derogatory, “terrorist”. The BBC has a duty to be objective and is absolutely correct to avoid emotive terms like terrorist that imply a value judgement. I think it serves no one for the BBC to invite violence against its journalists who are already taking enough risks to bring us the news.

We should also bear in mind that the people we call terrorists today may well be leading the governments with whom we will be seeking to trade tomorrow. The current President of Kenya’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, was imprisoned by the British as a terrorist, he became the country’s first president. Grudges can last a long time, the Irish have not forgotten the Boyne, nor the Scots the betrayal of the Act of Union, President Obama still holds the British treatment of the Mau Mau against us. Given the length of some people’s memories of injustices and slights, it seems as well not to exacerbate things by the careless use of language. That we describe someone accurately, in this case as Islamic militants does not mean we support them, it simply shows that we are not going to let the facts be obscured by emotion. Had reason prevailed after 9/11 we might not have spent a decade in a war that has only served to stimulate Islamic extremism. As it is the example we hold up to the world makes it easy for others to justify attacking us, and to argue they are merely repaying us in our own coin. Wars and violence are not acceptable as instruments of politics. The sooner we start being a little more understanding of others, a little more cautious before taking up the gun, but above all unimpeachable in our own conduct the sooner we can move towards peace. At the moment we are casually pushing the world into a conflict which will leave none of us unscathed. It would be easy to eradicate the complete population of Somalia in a single nuclear strike and so remove the cause for Al Shabaab as well as its members. Would it lead to any diminution of terrorism, or of Islamist extremism?  Somehow I doubt it, I have no doubt that there is a solution to terrorism, I don’t know what,  but I do know that acting,  and speaking from emotions rather than reason is not the way to find it.